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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

A New Story of the Stars. — No. I — The History and Scope of the Story

A New Story of the Stars.

No. I

The History and Scope of the Story.

The birth of a new star in the "Swan" in the year 1877, first directed my attention to the stupendous nature of these bodies, and to the fact that astronomers were entirely at a loss for a sufficient explanation to account for their extraordinary brilliancy and rapid disappearance, the theories current at the time being both inconsistent with the modern conception of energy, and utterly insufficient.

In casting about for an explanation of the almost unthinkable acquisition of heat necessary to suddenly transform the darkness of a dead star into the intense brilliancy of a new born sun, the possibilities of collisions suggested themselves. On investigating the conditions under page 2 which collisions would occur, it was quickly apparent that in the majority of cases they would not involve the colliding bodies as a whole but would generally be of a grazing character, and this introduces so many factors that the results show infinite variety. Yet with all this variety there are some very constant peculiarities. Generally three bodies would be produced, and curiously enough it is found that the impact will not appreciably affect the original bodies further than to cut a slice off each; hence to emphasise this peculiarity the theory has been called "Partial Impact."

A grazing impact of two suns will produce three phenomena, the ideas of which are apparently new to science, and judging from the difficulty of securing their recognition they are far from obvious. In the first place a slight graze will not stop the main portions of the colliding stars, or appreciably affect their velocity. The grazing parts will simply be Sheared off, will destroy each other's momentum, and convert their energy of motion into heat, and by the coalescence of the sheared parts a third body will be produced between the two original bodies. Secondly, the temperature produced will not depend on the amount of the shear but simply on the page 3 velocity destroyed, and on the chemical composition: that is, a hundredth part cut off will be as hot as a tenth. Thirdly, the stability of the coalesced body will depend on the amount of the graze. If the collision be complete a new single body will be produced that will settle down into a star of diameter not much larger than the sum of the diameters of the original bodies. If the graze is small, the temperature, that is the molecular velocity, will be the same as with a complete collision; but the attractive power of the third body will depend on the mass, and will obviously be less than in the case of a complete collision, It may easily be so small that each molecule as it reaches the surface will start on a journey never to return; the total attractive force of the mass being too small to stop it. The mass consequently expands with great temporary increase of light; but after a time the nebula produced will become so rare as to give but little light. It will expand into a hollow shell of gas or as it is called, "a planetary nebula," and finally it will often dissipate into space. Hence there is suddenly produced a very-brilliant body that loses its light, not because it has cooled but because it was too hot to hold together. These three phenomena are involved in every case of page 4 partial impact, but scores of new conditions come crowding on that complicate the results.

To make these principles known a series of papers on impact were published in 1878, '79, and '80, and some thousands of these papers and letters were sent to scientific men and journals, but as I could get no criticism, nor apparently interest any one in the matter, and as I felt sure someone must re-discover this very prolific field of research, I ceased for a time to make any strong effort to obtain a public recognition of the principles of "Partial Impact." I have, however, given a large number of post graduate and extra collegiate lectures on the subject, and have devoted considerable time to the many mathematical problems the subject introduces.

The earlier phases of Nova Aurigæ corresponded so exactly with the predictions of my papers that it was evidence enough to persuade most of those who knew the theory, of the truth of "Partial Impact'.' But the last phase must surely convince the most sceptical. As was predicted, it has become a planetary nebula whose nucleus is gradually lessening in brilliancy. Barnard the discoverer of Jupiter's fifth satelite, emphatically states page 5 that it was certainly not a nebula when first observed. It is also stated that the nebula has not arisen from either of the two retreating bodies; but the probability of three bodies impacting is altogether so remote that many writers try to escape the dilemma by ignoring the third body altogether. The conception that a graze of two stars must produce a third star does not seem to have been recognised.

Nova Aurigæ has proved a veritable Sphinx to astronomers, only it is worse than the Sphinx. It is not satisfied with one enigma but is continually propounding new ones. The first surprise it offered was its duplex character; the next the unprecedented velocities detected in its components; then it was found to be triple; then its light fluctuated in an extraordinary manner; now it is a planetary nebula. In the future "Partial Impact" tells us it will in all probability be found to be two variable stars Then the nebula will grow larger and larger, fainter and fainter, until it will probably become so faint as to be invisible.

It is most amusing to read the debates on the subject, and the absurd suggestions made to account for the peculiarities of the new star. But it is agreed that these peculiarities have completely exploded all page 6 the old text books theories of the origin of temporary stars.

None of these theories ever should have been accepted, even without the evidence of the new star. As I pointed out in 1879, they are absurdly inadequate. A typical new star is probably a thousand times as bright as our sun, it appears suddenly and disappears in a year. How can any theory of local disturbance account for such a stupendous event? Fancy a volcano or a gaseous bonfire a thousand million times as large as the earth; yet these are amongst the explanations suggested to account for new stars. The formation of such a body is difficult enough to explain on any theory except that of impact, but to explain its disappearance is more difficult still. It is estimated that it will take the sun ten million years to lose half its lustre. Think of a sun a thousand times as bright cooling in a year. The idea is absurd. On the other hand, how simple the solution offered by a grazing impact. A pair of dead suns collide. It matters not whether the graze be little or great, it has no appreciable effect on the temperature produced. Each pound weight strikes with some hundred million times as much energy as the same mass would exert in a pair of colliding express trains. The page 7 impact produces a temperature ten thousand times as hot as the hottest furnace. The collision is soon over, perhaps in less than an hour, and then the two suns sweep on in their course, whilst the parts grazed off destroy each other's momentum, convert the energy into heat, and stay behind coalesced into a single mass of glowing gas. This under the slight attractive force of the new body is too hot to be stable, and so expands indefinitely.

Heat is a motion of molecules, and in this case every molecule travels so fast that as it reaches the surface it flies straight onward into space, and so the star becomes a mass of diffused gas of feeble luminosity. Nova Aurigæ has now expanded into a hollow sphere that this theory suggests as being possibly about a hundred thousand million miles in diameter, and its light has probably taken five hundred years to reach us.

The two suns after striking would spin in consequence of the blow, and each would have a molten lake of fire where the other cut into it. As the stars rotate they would be like policemen's lanterns spinning on a string; they would shew alternately the hot and cool faces.

How does the account astronomers give us of the new star correspond with these page 8 predictions made and published more than a dozen years ago? They tell us Nova Aurigæ appeared suddenly, that it was made up of three bodies, of which two were flying away from each other at the rate of several hundreds of miles per second; it had strange fluctuations of light; and the third body has now expanded into a vast hollow globe of gas, or planetary nebula. Most observers agree in the above salient features of the new star, but there is a good deal of disagreement in the minor details. The difficulties of the observations are enormous. No telescope has ever been able to separate the two stars; in the most powerful they appear as a single point of light, and in addition to this the workers have no theory to guide them in their search. In fact, they neglect, as untrustworthy because of their apparent improbability, observations that a student of "Partial Impact" would actually look for.

Although a grazing impact seemed the only conceivable event that could either furnish the enormous energy, or account for the fugitive nature of temporary stars; yet I little thought that during my own life, instruments would be so improved as actually to shew us all the essential phenomena of impact in a single star. I hoped that a little might be learned from one star, page 9 a little from another; and as the time rolled on, that by studying all the variable and temporary stars, the theory might ultimately be proved. But that a single star should furnish all the information needed to absolutely demonstrate the theory, was altogether beyond my expectations. Nova Aurigæ has done all this. With respect to this star it is no exaggera-to say that Partial Impact" has anticipated every particular down to the smallest detail, even of its complex spectrum. The initial velocities mentioned in the papers in the transactions of the New Zealand Institute were five hundred miles a second; and all the varieties of its spectrum were obviously to be expected; the middle body expanding hundreds of miles a second must produce broad lines. Each of the three bodies has intensely luminous matter cut from the others, hence all the lines of each spectrum must be of identically the same chemical elements, but of different character and differently displaced. The diagrams printed in these papers also shewed the triplicity of the star and the character of the motions of its constituents.

Despite the usual difficulty in introducing a new scientific theory, when all the efforts to make it known are considered, it appears almost incredible that so simple, page 10 yet so far-reaching a generalization as this could remain unnoticed in the present age of scientific progress.

Paper after paper has been read before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, and the papers printed and provided with good illustrations in the transactions. Many thousands of copies of these and other papers have been forwarded to scientific men and journals. A number of papers were read at the Australasian Association of Science. Several Mathematical, Physical, Engineering and other University Professors were present, who admitted themselves quite unable to detect a flaw in the reasoning. A summary of the papers appeared in the transactions, and yet no criticism has been offered.

At various times when astronomical observations have apparently demonstrated the truth of the theory, printed papers and diagrams have been sent to those interested in the discoveries, shewing that the new result had been anticipated years before. Yet beyond a courteous acknowledgement I have heard no more of the matter. This neglect is the more wonderful as this mode of treating astronomy is very interesting. A course of lectures given in the large lecture theatre of Canterbury College had to be repeated, and page 11 "standing room only" was the condition of attendance at every one of the second course of lectures.

I ought in all fairness to state that I have never had any difficulty in convincing a popular audience of the reasonableness of the suggestion, and I have also received much encouragement and assistance from Mr. Adams, geodesical surveyor; Mr. Beverly, the able mathematician; Mr. F. W. Frankland, the actuary; and from Sir George Grey, who I have been told, when the theory was attacked in the New Zealand House of Representatives as so much waste of time, gave a powerful exposition of its principles.

The theory of "Partial Impact" gives a perfectly simple explanation of the origin of temporary, variable, and double stars, and accounts for all their peculiarities. It explains the formation of multiple stars, star clusters, and also the mode of evolution of every definite form of nebula. It gives also the reason for the remarkable distribution of all these bodies in the celestial sphere. It supplies an almost irresistible explanation of the genesis of the visible universe, and probably affords the most satisfactory explanation of the formation of the solar system yet given; and contrary to the theory of "Dissipation of Energy" page 12 it shews that the cosmos may be immortal.

As already mentioned the theory pointed out, and diagrams were drawn fourteen years ago to shew that most new stars must be triple. It also stated that two of the bodies would be flying away from each other at velocities of hundreds of miles a second, and that a middle body of unrivalled brilliancy would be formed between them, would expand, would become a planetary nebula, and then generally disappear. The theory pointed out that variable stars would sometimes be in pairs. A subsequent investigation into their positions proved this to be the case. This is a most wonderful piece of evidence. A mathematical calculation shews that the idea of this being the result of an accident could not possibly be entertained; the chances are more than one hundred sextillions to one against it. Whoever in the future attempts to give an explanation of the origin of variable stars must account for this remarkable fact as well as the other peculiarities of these bodies.

This theory of the origin of variable stars suggests that in time most variable stars will lose their variability; that the period of their rotation will not be very accurately marked, and that their maximum page 13 brilliancy will not be always alike. An investigation into their history discloses all these peculiarities.

The theory points out that double stars will frequently be surrounded by a nebula. Herschel says "the association of nebulæ with double stars is truly remarkable." The theory demands that their orbits should be highly eccentric. An examination of their elements shews this to be a striking peculiarity of double stars. The theory clearly points out that they will often be variable. No astronomical book made any mention of such a fact. But so strong was the conviction that this must be the case that a diligent search was kept up for years, and ultimately it was found that Struvè, the great Russian observer had proved it to be a very common characteristic of double stars. We should also expect a great number to be coloured; and this is the case.

The theory pointed out that most planetary nebulae, most temporary, variable, and double stars, and star clusters would be in the milky way; and that on the other hand nearly all the double, spiral, spindle, and annular nebulae would be at the poles of the milky way. An investigation into their places proves all these surmises to be facts. All the peculiarities of the star page 14 drift, and the general form of the universe receives an easy explanation on this theory. Here we have thousands upon thousands of facts that the theory of impact has anticipated or explained; are they not sufficient to demonstrate it? Is there one of these facts that has received any other explanation than that of impact that fully satisfies any one? Is there any single proven astronomical observation amongst the millions of those recorded that is inconsistent with the theory? Not one that I know of. Yet with all this evidence in its favour, astronomers do not accept the idea of stellar encounters. It is incomprehensible.

The scepticism with regard to the theory of the collision of stars is as though a person saw two locomotives up on end and entangled with one another, all the carriages of the train telescoped, death and destruction everywhere, and were to say: "It cannot be a collision. Our system of electric switches renders them impossible. I own it looks like one, but it must clearly be a delusion, for our system of signalling is absolutely perfect. Besides I did not see the collision, and seeing only is believing. You must really seek some other explanation."

page 15

The scepticism is as though a man entered a shattered house and said: "It is impossible a shell has exploded here, for there is an armistice."

"But!" says someone, "Look at the dilapidated house; see the nature of the wounds and smell the gunpowder."

"Yes! If it were not for the armistice I should certainly think that a shell had exploded, but you see it cannot be so."

"But look at the pieces of iron sticking in the walls, does not that prove it?"

"I see the iron; I admit the evidence is plausible; but we must not forget the armistice.'

It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the evidence in these two similies is not more striking than the evidence of stellar collision. Only had we no such evidence, it is almost certain that the motions and mutual attractions of stars must produce collisions, there is no system of switches and rails to keep them apart, and no armistice to prevent them colliding.

So when we see space strewn with star wreckage, it seems incredible that anyone can think stars do not collide. We stand in the presence of the actual facts, and we are forced to believe in their encounters.

All the later observations of astonomers go to demonstrate the unity of the cosmos page 16 and the invariability of law. The recent revelations of the lens, the prism, and the photographic film in the domain of astronomy, read like fairly tales, yet all demonstrate these two ideas. Suns and systems numbered by the hundred millions are revealed to us. Gigantic dead suns, although invisible, are capable of being weighed and measured, and their velocity estimated by their effects upon the spectrum of other stars. Nebulæ are shewn to be giant swirling masses of gas, and every day photographs appear extending our knowledge of the grandeur and complexity of the cosmos.

We construct lenses that enable us to see teeming worlds in a drop of liquid, or tell us that the stars are gigantic orbs many millions of times as large as the earth on which we live.

The prism that enables us to detect the millionth of a grain of metal, enables us to know the composition, the temperature, the weight, and the motions of those distant suns. The photographic film that will write down the lineaments of those we love, may be made to give us pictures of objects so distant, that even when aided by the most powerful telescope, no eye has ever seen them. So also the laws of nature apply equally to the most minute page 17 forces and the vast energies of those distant orbs. These three physical weapons have demonstrated the unity of creation, and it has become an article of scientific faith. The same laws and forces hold for the infinitesimally little and for the infinitely great. The molecules of a gas are continually brought into impact by their motions. The distant stars obey the same laws. Molecules attract when near each other, so do suns. Both travel in curved paths when influenced by attraction. When they strike the molecules break to pieces, so almost certainly do suns. Let us trace such an encounter. Just as a comet entering our system is drawn into a curved orbit by the sun, so two suns would influence one another, and sometimes they would graze. Then a whole world of possibilities offer themselves. The grazing bodies may be dense or rare; they may be star clusters or dark bodies; they may merely touch or cut deeply. A star may collide with a star, with a star cluster, or a nebula; a nebula with a nebula; and so on in infinite variety. There are endless possibilities.

When suns graze, a temporary star and two variable ones are produced. If the graze be slight the temporary star dissipates page 18 entirely. If larger, it forms a fairly permanent planetary nebula. If still larger, it produces a star cluster or solar system.

The variable stars produced by the collision may spin slowly or quickly; they may have mere inequalities of heating or gigantic lakes of fire, and after recovering their sphericity they will pulsate with tremendous energy. Were their original proper motion small, and the graze considerable, they would become orbitally connected, and would form a double star. If the opposite, they would not be connected, but would form a pair of variable stars, continually increasing their distance from each other. If a star impact with a star cluster, a world of strange phenomena ensue. If with a group of dead suns, what remarkable fluctuations of light must be produced. If with a nebula, the star may often become orbitally connected with it, and in distant ages will not unlikely become a double star. If nebulae impact with each other, double nebulae may occur often with long spindles between them. The spindle will frequently be left alone; then a spiral will shew at the centre; then it will spread until a large double spiral nebula results. If the impact be still more considerable an annular nebula will be formed. All these nebulae will be found page 19 at the poles of the milky way. On the other hand, most of the star clusters, most of the temporary and variable stars, as well as nearly all planetary nebulæ, these being the result of stellar impact, will be found in the Milky Way where stars are thickly spread and such impacts are likely to be frequent.

If two systems, either or both with satellites revolving in all azimuths, come into impact, and the graze be considerable, a solar system will probably result. If two roughly spherical universes like the Magellanic Clouds impact, an annular universe will be the result with caps covered with nebula. This is probably the origin of our own universe.

The heat radiated from the stars will chiefly fall upon the dust of space and raise its temperature. When this heated dust meets with slowly moving free molecules of gas, this heat will increase the velocity of such molecules. When these molecules by doing work again lose their velocity, they will be in positions of higher gravitation potential. Wherever space is sparsely spread with matter the potential energy of gravitation will be highest and motion slowest. In a number of indiscriminately moving bodies, where motion is slowest, the bodies accumulate, hence in page 20 the sparsely occupied portions of space molecules will tend to aggregate. Here new universes are forming. At first they will be of gas, then they will increase by entrapping other bodies, and this mode of the formation of new universes will tend to give us an immortal cosmos.

The above are some of the first fruits of the prolific field of research that this study has opened to our gaze. Have we not in impact the key to unlock the sublime mysteries of the universe? As we mentally follow the phenomena it unfolds to us, do we not seem to hold the silken clue to the intricacies of the mazy labyrinth of the creation? Does it not supply a means to reveal to us the secrets of the infinite? Is not constructive impact the very mode of the evolution of the cosmos, and as we follow its teaching does not our conception of the order and grandeur of the cosmos increase, until the mind reels as we peer dimly out into its vast expanses; and contrary to the present views of the creation does not our theory shew that the cosmos may be both infinite and immortal.